University College Dublin (UCD) is currently accepting applications for its MSc in Agricultural Extension and Innovation. Funded by Macra Skillnet, the course is targeted at anyone employed within the agricultural industry who works directly with farmers or farm families.

Launched in 2018 as a two-year part-time distance learning course, the master’s caters for students of all ages who work full time, allowing them to complete course work from home in the evenings and weekends.

What is agricultural extension?

Agricultural extension is an informal education process directed toward the rural population. This process offers advice and information to help farmers with problem solving.

It also aims to increase the efficiency of the family farm, increase production and generally increase standards of living. This, in turn, supports and sustains rural development.

Supporting the sentiments of agricultural extension, course director Dr Tomás Russell explains the place and purpose of UCD’s post-graduate programme.

“This course was developed based around the fact that most people in our industry come out of college with a degree and specific technical expertise in science, animals or crops, for example. This master’s programme teaches students how to deal with people. It is a social science programme all about understanding farmer behavioural change and adoption. The course focuses on the skills required to communicate with and support farmers,” he says.

It is suitable for anyone who wants to work directly with farmers

Addressing a common misconception, Tomás clarifies that this master’s programme is not exclusively for agricultural advisers or science experts. The Macra Skillnet-funded master’s programme is open to anyone employed in a role that deals directly with farmers or farm families.

This guideline ensures that students are able to complete the assignments allocated, which are reflective in nature and based on the student’s own experiences at work, Tomás adds.

“To be eligible for this master’s, you must have a minimum 2:2 level 8 degree in any discipline, or relevant industry experience. However, you do not need to have an agricultural qualification or background to apply for this course.

“It is suitable for anyone who wants to work directly with farmers. For example, we have had advisers, vets, journalists, banking professionals and mediators completing the course in the past,” he says.

Good communication skills

UCD’s Master’s in Agricultural Extension and Innovation educates students on how, through their working role, to effectively interact and connect with farmers and farm families.

“People are coming out of college with really great technical knowledge but without an understanding of how you can get a farmer to adopt a new method or change their routine – the technical knowledge is actually useless.

“Understanding what goes on inside a farmer’s head is key,” says Tomás.

Now that industry leaders are well informed on the benefits of good relations and communication, employers are likely to identify a graduate of this programme as a standout candidate, adds Tomás.

It depends on the role that you are in, but this master’s will help you to support farmers in developing their business

“There is a hugely increased interest in this whole area of extension and communication from employers in the sector. They are really starting to value an employee who understands farmers and so can properly support and deal with the customers.

“It depends on the role that you are in, but this master’s will help you to support farmers in developing their business and help you to better understand your clients,” he finishes.

UCD has 15 places on the upcoming distance learning course. Subsidised by Macra Skillnet, the cost per student is approximately €3,175, but this figure can vary slightly depending on external elements.

The deadline for applications is 25 June, with a September 2021 commencement date.

UCD also offers the master’s programme on a one-year, full-time, self-funded basis.

For further information on fees, application and course content visit UCD’s website.

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